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Medical data breaches are breeding unhealthy fears

There’s evidence that data breaches in the medical world are prompting some patients to avoid giving doctors sensitive information about themselves, including such conditions as mental health or drug abuse problems.

A study and accompanying editorial in the Journal of the American Medical Association warns that data theft of private patient records “could seriously undermine efforts to improve health and health care in the United States.” High-profile cases that happened after the study included the hack into Anthem, Inc.’s database and its information on nearly 80 million people and the Primera Blue Cross breach, affecting about 11 million customers and others.

Another thing to be concerned about is theft of your private information, such as your medical card numbers. A key way to know whether you have been hit is to read your statements from doctors or insurers. Look for any questionable charges. Also, an unpaid balance for medical procedures, products or drugs may be an indication.

“Don’t throw away your explanation of benefits,” Lisa Gallagher, a cybersecurity expert told The Associated Press. “Take a look at them. If you see care that wasn’t provided to you, or dates and names of providers that don’t make sense, go to the provider and report that.”

Who wouldn’t want their student loan debt to go away?

The answer to that is what scammers are banking on, and they’re hoping you want it badly enough to become their latest dupe.

It starts when an email lands in your box or you see a social media post from a company that says it can erase your student loan debt through a “fast and easy” application process. One such email is titled “Massive Adjustments Available to Your Student Loans” and explains that this is possible under the “President’s newer plan for students who are no longer in school but have student debt.”

In some versions, they’ll also offer to consolidate your loans for you. There are many legitimate consolidation offers, but they generally won’t ask you to pay an upfront fee, as the scammers do. The Better Business Bureau says the scammers will try to persuade you that it’s worth the cost because they’ve been able to help many others. There’s a phone number to call, as well as a link to unsubscribe.

Don’t do either, the BBB says.

“Student loans can only be forgiven under specific circumstances, and it’s not fast or easy,” the organization says. “These people will take your fee and disappear.”

Here’s what you should know about student loan scams, according to the BBB:

  • Never pay fees upfront. Yes, legitimate lenders do charge application, appraisal or other fees, but they prominently disclose these costs and usually don’t charge them until after the loan is approved.
  • Know your options. If you’re having difficulty paying off student loans, contact your lender directly. Also, research programs offered by the federal government.
  • Never give a third-party power of attorney, and don’t sign anything giving a company the power to negotiate on your behalf. A scam company can use this to take control of your loans.

Above all, the usual mantra applies: If it seems to good to be true, it probably is.

Ellen Marks is assistant business editor at the Albuquerque Journal. Contact her at emarks@abqjournal.com or 505-823-3842 if you are aware of what sounds like a scam. To report a scam to law enforcement, contact the New Mexico Consumer Protection Division toll-free at 1-800-678-1508.

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